Dubai: The Godless Mirage of Capitalism
A friend of mine recently shared an article from the Independent with me on Dubai which (especially by the standards of the Independent) was quite excellent I must say. Despite being quite long, I found I could not stop reading it as the expose (which admittedly was a few years old) delved into history of Dubai, a city that was quite literally came from nothing out of the desert to become essentially a wealthy state built upon slave labour and the money of the Western super-rich. The more I read, the more I realised that the points raised by the article could transcend the city-state of Dubai to the broader world itself.What struck me most about the Independent’s story was how Dubai is essentially the “Seinfeld” of economics; the crown jewel of the United Arab Emirates is essentially an economy built upon nothing. An eyesore in the desert, Dubai rose to financial prominence upon a wave of cheap credit and real estate speculation. Things were helped along initially by the discovery of oil, but not that much by the standards of its Gulf State neighbours. Western expats were lured over with promises of easy jobs, fast living, and cheap live in servants.
As a result, natives of Dubai live lives of luxury almost entirely financed by government money, where practically everyone is waited on hand and foot by servants who clean their homes and raise their children for them. It is a world of opulence where people could live lavish lifestyles with indoor ski runs in a desert climate and hotels built on man-made artificial islands so long as they were willing to turn a blind eye to what made it all possible; labourers lured from countries like Bangladesh on promises of jobs and good wages only to have their passports confiscated on arrival and be forced to work fourteen hour days in inhumane conditions and maids imported from Ethiopia and the Philippines to serve as live in slaves.
I’ve previously detailed my gradual drift away from libertarianism, but despite this I should reiterate that I’m hardly a socialist. I have no time for the post-modern left of trigger warnings and safe spaces, and even less for the hardcore Marxists sundry that go about arguing for inevitability of a workers’ revolution. Capitalism has without question created more wealth and enriched more lives than any other system in history, and done so by harnessing the natural human drive to better oneself and tethering it to improvement of living standards for ones’ fellow human beings. However, as much as I remain a reluctant capitalist in the mould of Roger Scruton I refuse to blind myself to its flaws that stories such as this one reveal and acknowledge in the visceral of my intestine that its critics do have something of a point to them.
The great industrial entrepreneurs of the past, the Mellons and Carnegies and Rockefellers, created great wealth but did so in the process of creating much else. Henry Ford, the most famous of them, built his fortune by developing a process by which automobiles could be mass produced in such a way that what was previously a luxury good could be affordable to everyone (while also paying his workers enough to be able to purchase the very vehicles they were building). He did this as a patriot, who sought to make America the industrial powerhouse of its time just as Britain had been in the onset of the Industrial Revolution. It was a capitalism that was built upon the foundation of making things, on linking the spirit of individuals to better themselves to the bettering of everyone.
The story of Dubai is one of wealth created out of nothing. The whole thing was a mirage, eerily similar to the story of the financial crisis that preceded it, created to simply satiate greed upon human misery. I cannot help but wonder if this is not the perfect example of everything that has gone wrong with the modern economy: an altar of malls, hotels and nightclubs worshipped by the godless. When life is hollowed out until there is nothing but materialism and empty gratification is it any surprise that it is reduced to an endless desire for more, more, more because there is nothing else left?
In Dubai today, where the music finally has come to a stop, nothing is left in this modern day Babylon but the unfinished skeletons of buildings never to be completed, waiting to be reclaimed by the sands that they sprang from. I cannot but fear that this is a living metaphor for the empty ethos that created it.